Al Pacino, Helen Mirren and David Mamet on 'Phil Spector' Inspirations

Phil Spector - Retrial - 2009
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When David Mamet’s Phil Spector premieres in the spring, viewers should not expect precise impersonations of the legendary music producer and his defense attorney Linda Kenney Baden.

“It’s a strange amalgamation of imagination and reality,” noted Oscar winner Helen Mirren, who was on hand Friday at the Television Critics Association winter press tour to plug the HBO film in which she stars as Baden. To hear her and co-star Al Pacino tell it, the goal with this effort was not to impersonate the real-life characters but rather to use them as inspiration in telling a fictionalized story about the client-attorney relationship between Spector and Baden during his first murder trial for the 2003 killing of actress Lana Clarkson. 

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In fact, Pacino never even tried to meet the "Wall of Sound" producer because, as he put it, “it’s a different Phil Spector now.” The man Pacino set out to play was still participating in his first murder trial, which ended in a hung jury in 2007; Spector was convicted in his second trial in 2009 and was sentenced to 19 years to life in prison (he remains incarcerated at the state prison in Corcoran, Calif.). Rather, the actor spent many hours watching footage of that trial and trying to make sense of the character -- a "mythical" Spector -- that Mamet had crafted.

Although Mirren insists she never tried to become an exact replica of Baden either, she did form a relationship with her character’s inspiration, who served as a consultant on the HBO project. "It's amazing to have someone available to you who knew those experiences, but we’re not exactly replicating Linda’s experiences," Mirren explained, noting that she had little time to prepare for the role as she stepped in to replace an injured Bette Midler once production was underway. (Given the role of attorney-client privilege, Baden could share very little about Spector and his trial experience with the cast and crew. What she did reveal Friday was that she remains unconvinced that Spector is guilty: "I've always said to myself that I thought that the forensic evdience did not prove that he had committed this crime," she said. "And I think that's what this movie explores.")

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Mirren did a considerable amount of additional research for the part as well, a process made easier by her filmmaker husband Taylor Hackford's personal experience with -- and subsequent stories about -- Spector, having worked with him decades earlier on the 1980 film The Idolmaker. "You can’t exaggerate these stories. Phil Spector is a man of such incredible contradictions," added Mirren of someone who she describes as half-man, half-beast. "He must have lived in a permanent dream."

Mamet was similarly intrigued by those contradictions once he watched a Spector documentary, The Agony and Ecstasy of Phil Spector, that his agent recommended. Mamet acknowledged that initially he had little interest in learning more about the convicted producer: "I said, 'I don't want to know anything about Phil Spector. I know all I need to know, which is that he was a freak, he killed some girl, he went away. Good riddance," Mamet said, noting that the "brilliant" doc made him question Spector's sentencing-- and the desire to tackle his story. "A half an hour in, you're saying, 'How could I be so prejudiced? The guy's kind of brilliant,'" Mamet recalled. "And at the end of the documentary, you're saying, 'Wait a second. I came to this with such prejudice. Maybe the guy's not guilty.' " 

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